Tue | Nov 29, 2022

Deportee launches home enterprise from shelter, employs peers

Published:Wednesday | December 30, 2020 | 12:18 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Devon Wade, a resident of the Open Arms Drop-in Centre, proudly shows off his City and Guilds skills certificate.
Devon Wade, a resident of the Open Arms Drop-in Centre, proudly shows off his City and Guilds skills certificate.

From a homeless shelter in Kingston, 60-year-old Devon ‘Frank’ Wade has launched a business which allows him to employ other homeless persons to design, build and furnish the homes of prospective and current homeowners.

Frank was deported from the United Kingdom (UK) three years ago and now calls the Open Arms Drop-in Centre off Windward Road in east Kingston home. Earlier this month, he officially launched Rainbow Decorating and Construction Company.

“Basically, you give me an empty house [and] you just turn the key and go to bed,” he said.

“Say, for instance, you have a bathroom to do. We would come to your house, show you a range of bathrooms, you can either design it there and then or we can make suggestions,” he said, before explaining that his company would actually contract the labourers and source the materials to design an exquisite bathroom suite in this instance.

Frank is still trying to get reacquainted with Jamaica, a country he left when he was just seven years old. Despite not having any known relatives here, having his own company going into the new year has lifted his spirits.

The entrepreneur pursued his first degree in social work and was in the profession for 20 years, working primarily in children’s homes. He has also been in the construction industry for 30 years.

“The building bug came from my family. You couldn’t spend your Saturday watching television. You had to go and decorate, sweep the floor, stain wood, that sort of thing,” he said.

Frank was married and now has four adult children back in England. He said his life took a turn for the worse when his family broke up 13 years ago.

“You know when you basically don’t have any direction? You are basically floating from one drama to the next. One of the dramas turned into an epic movie and this is the after-effect,” he said when asked the reason for his deportation.

A feat worth celebrating

Since being at the shelter, he has acquired his City and Guilds certificate in basic electrical installation from the UK. It’s a feat worth celebrating for the entrepreneur, who once feared touching anything electrical. This phobia was developed after witnessing one of his colleagues being flung across the room while in the process of doing electrical work.

“Now, we’ve got a certificate and accreditation that we can actually go out and use to obtain a job, and in the last six months, we have been able to do that regardless of the pandemic,” he said.

Frank has also pursued studies in barbering and IT while at the shelter. He is now putting his computer skills to use by sending emails, doing research and marketing his business online.

Manager for the shelter, Yvonne Grant, said getting residents certified is a priority. Currently, only 20 per cent of those who reside there were deported. The majority were living on the streets in Kingston.

The shelter currently pays for the teachers, the courses and even the uniforms, where necessary, for the residents who Grant calls “participants”.

Over the years, the shelter has received donations from other non-governmental organisations, the Government, corporate entities and altruistic individuals to fund projects aimed at transforming the lives of homeless persons. The aim is to get them to a point where they can start a business or secure employment to get back on their feet.

“When they do skills training here, we give them a kit. He did electrical and we gave him a basic kit with the tools that they need to start working. Barbering is the most expensive; that runs near $50,000 for each barbering kit,” she explained.

Grant said the participants do not leave without getting qualified, and like Frank, several have started their own businesses.

Frank has been employing some of the now-certified homeless persons into his business. Some are just able to help mix sand and bring cement, but he thinks it’s important that everyone works together so they can achieve their ultimate desire.

Frank said 2021 will find him pursuing happiness. He wants to expand his company, secure permanent employment, own a car and, ultimately, leave the shelter.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com